Two cheers for Nick Clegg – at least he’s talking about drugs

He is absolutely right in his analysis that prohibition has failed and addiction must be treated as a health issue

Share

Hooray! Give Nick Clegg a cheer – at last we have a prominent frontline politician talking some sense on drugs. Following a trip to Colombia, the Liberal Democrat leader says the status quo is failing, pointing out cocaine use has trebled in under two decades despite the supposed war on drugs, and that blanket prohibition has caused carnage and conflict around the planet.

He is also right to point out that our timorous politicians talk about drug reform only when they have left office, fearing the media storm that might engulf them. The most interesting recent example of this is Labour’s Bob Ainsworth, whose experiences at the Home Office turned him into an unlikely drugs campaigner; he found the public far more progressive on this issue than he had expected.

This is unsurprising, given that voters live in the real world. The Sixties generation that tuned in and turned on is now claiming free bus passes, while those speed-fuelled punks are becoming grandparents and the rave generation is having children. Recent surveys have found two-thirds of the electorate favour a review of drug laws, and a majority support reform of the cannabis laws – including half of Conservative supporters. Previous studies found particularly strong support among middle-aged women.

Yet Mr Clegg deserves only one cheer for his supposedly bold intervention in this debate – and that is for raising the political profile of an important issue that has been swept aside by most British politicians for too long. This fearful silence was one more reason for the distrust of politicians, one more example of the dislocation between Westminster and the rest of the country. The hope is that after too many unnecessary deaths, the issue of drug reform is at last driven into the centre of political debate.

I am not going to rehearse well-worn arguments in favour of regulating the drug trade and taking it out of the hands of the world’s most lethal gangsters. You only have to look at the deaths of those young people killed by taking what they thought was ecstasy and turned out to be PMA, or to ponder the causes of the collapse of a country once seen to be as stable as Mali. Or indeed to consider the Canute-like hopelessness of trying to prevent the tide of newly-created smart drugs from entering our nation.

The simple fact is that many human beings like taking drugs, whether it is alcohol or ecstasy, cannabis or cocaine. For some people this spirals into devastating and life-threatening addiction, as seen again last week with the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Illegality makes the suffering worse for the addicts themselves, their families and their communities. Since the continuation of this unregulated, underground market is lunacy on so many levels, we can be thankful that a war on drugs, begun by a shamed US president four decades ago, is nearing its end around the world thanks to brave politicians in Latin American and parts of Europe.

Mr Clegg seeks to join their ranks, with his laughable call for Britain to lead the debate in Europe and for Europe to lead the debate in the world. It must have passed him by that two countries on our continent – Portugal and the Czech Republic – have already decriminalised drug use. Or that Uruguay has become the world’s first country to legalise the marijuana trade, while other Latin leaders push even more dramatic reforms. Even the current US president – who has admitted using cocaine, a drug that has caused the imprisonment of thousands of his fellow citizens – now says marijuana is no more lethal than alcohol, after seeing states start permitting pot usage.

If only our Deputy Prime Minister was displaying similar boldness, let alone any genuine liberalism, by demanding radical reform in Britain too. Yet instead of proposing any action, he is resorting to the nervous refrain of calling for more debate on a subject that has been debated for decades. Sadly, he appears to be doing this only for the most naked and short-term political reasons, as part of his desperate efforts to find some definition for his flailing party, blaming Tory coalition partners for refusing to engage in proper discussion.

The irony is that the last front-rank politician who began tiptoeing in this direction is now Prime Minister. When standing for party leader, David Cameron called for the sensible downgrading of ecstasy from a class A drug – but last November his Government announced plans to ban the mild stimulant khat, in defiance of advice from experts and MPs. Yet as some on the right in America have finally realised, regulating the legal use of drugs is the perfect conservative policy since it is tough on crime, saves money, safeguards children, aids development and improves security around the world.

Once again, the Tories touched on something significant in opposition, then dropped the baton in government. Mr Clegg has shown political astuteness by seizing the issue. He is absolutely right in his analysis that prohibition has failed and addiction must be treated as a health issue. Now he needs to show real courage by coming out and stating the obvious: Britain, like all other wealthy nations, should legalise and regulate all drugs.

Twitter: @ianbirrell

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future